Recovering America’s History of Progressive Populism

There is only one narrative in the mainstream media about populism: it destroys democracy and leads straight to fascism. This is an ignorant and false narrative. Here’s a typical example of the mainstream anguish that the elites’ preferred narratives are falling apart because they’ve left the bottom 95% behind: How Democracies Fall Apart: Why Populism Is a Pathway to Autocracy

Granted, this is an international context for populism, but this is no excuse foroverlooking America’s history of progressive populism. Are the “experts” beating the drum that populism inevitably leads to autocracy so poorly educated about American history that they don’t know that populism can be powerfully progressive, or are they being willfully blind to serve their elitist masters?

It’s time we recover America’s history of progressive populism. It’s awfully easy for elites and their toadies (witting or unwitting) to dismiss the citizenry who reject elitst narratives as “deplorables,” just as it is easy for them to dismiss populist resistance to their control as being “undemocratic.”

This is of course the exact opposite of the truth: populism is the result when the institutions of “democracy”–i.e. the machinery of elite control–have failed to respond to the concerns and opinions of non-elites.

Having been rendered impotent and voiceless in the elite-dominated machinery, the bottom 95% have no alternative but to join a populist movement–a movement that in America often takes the form of a third party or an insurgency in an established political party (for example, Sanders and Trump).

Populism arises as a response to crushing inequality in both wealth and political power. The “free silver” movement arose in the late 1800s as a response of the non-elites to the enormous power and wealth of the Gilded Age financiers and industrialists.

The populist idea was to expand the money supply via minting more silver coins, with the goal being to make it easier for small enterprises and family farmers to borrow the new capital that would enter the economy.

Precisely how does this sort of populism lead to autocracy and fascism? The entire claim is laughably absurd. How can so-called “experts” spew this “populism leads to autocracy” nonsense?

Populism is a response to an elitist dominance in wealth and power that have failed the bottom 95%. Populism is a demand for solutions that work for the bottom 95% rather than just for the top 5%, and progressive populism of the sort that enabled Bernie Sanders to raise immense sums from small donors is alive and well–and would be “democratic” if it hadn’t been squelched by the elites of the Democratic Party.

The “economic nationalism” of Trump’s brand of populism is potentially progressive for the 95% who have not benefitted from neoliberal, financialized globalism. Bringing jobs and capital home is not fascism; rather, it is a movement of economic justice for the bottom 95% who did not benefit from globalism, offshoring and the free flow of financier capital, i.e. the neoliberal version of globalism that has been pushed for the past 24 years through the Clinton, Bush amd Obama presidencies.

To many people, borrowing money to rebuild America’s infrastructure is a more progressive use of the national treasure than squandering trillions of dollars on overseas wars of choice and bailing out banks. Does the progressive populism of “come home, America” lead straight to autocracy? The idea that populism leads to autocracy has it completely backward (on purpose): what we have now is an autocracy of financial and political elites hell-bent on maintaining their death-grip on the nation’s throat.

This defense of failed, exploitive elites–as if the elites’ control has been “democratic” and has reduced inequality–is truly pathetic. Don’t fall for the “populism leads to autocracy” propaganda of the elites who are threatened by progressive populism.

Populism is a response to an elitist dominance in wealth and power that have failed the bottom 95%. Progressive policies arise out of the bottom 95%’s resistance to the failed narratives of the elites and their toadies. The elites’ toadies, lackeys, shills, sycophants, water-carriers and apologists are desperately hyping the context-free, historically ignorant narrative that “populism leads to autocracy” to protect the existing autocracy of the elites.

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  • Josh Stern

    The time of the Great Depression, FDR, and WWII is famous in history, but the fury of the populist vs. elitest battle from that time is largely forgotten & ignored. Mentioning all of the interesting facts from the battle would take too long for a blog response. But I’ll note a few highlights:

    1) There were actually 4 (“FOUR”) treasonous plots against FDR during his length Presidential period. The first was an assassination attempt while he was President elect – – that killed the Mayor of Chicago instead. This assassin claimed to motivated by the concern that FDR, from an elite background, wouldn’t be populist enough. The second, and best known, from the other direction was the so-called “Business Plot” where a bunch of Wall Street mogul types make the mistake of trying to recruit UMSMC hero Smedley Butler, who blew the whistle on them in Congressional hearings. Newspapers like the NYT were connected to the plotters – they were counting on newspaper support – and so they hushed up the story afterwards, but it was a pretty big deal.- c,f. Archer’s “The Plot to Seize the White House”. Congress asked Butler to keep hush about it and he was angry by this secrecy. He blew the whistle on it in a national radio show.

    The 3rd plot is attached to an army general, George Van Horn Moseley, was a right-wing, anti-Semitic affair. And the 4th plot, least well known, but apparently real, was dealth with behind the scenes when Cornelis Vanderbilt Jr. tipped of Eleanor Rooselvelt who told FDR. He had some military fired in a hush, hush gentlemanly way, and had an FBI tail put on other plotters.

    2) The isolationist America First movement, pressuring FDR from the non-interventionist left, was actually huge in size:. Some of them, like Lindy, were anti-semitic, but that was not their motivation.

    3) The American & British public were kept ignorant of the extent of Stalin’s atrocities (e.g. mass disappearance murder of the entire governing infrastructure of Poland – – because Stalin was a useful war ally and portraying the War as good vs. evil was helpful.

    4) FBI was not in favor of Japanese internment because the FBI had long before drawn up a list of all people of Japanese Asian descent, spied on them, decided who was really suspicious, made preparations to round up the supicious ones when hostilities broke out, which it did. The FBI felt the big internment was unnecessary because it had already rounded up everyone “of interest” long before that. It seems that the anti-Japanese fervor was an example of mis-guided populism. The US army was surprised by the specifics of the Pearl Harbor attack and another similar one that caught their aircraft on the ground, a few days like in the Phillipines. But they were not surprised by the general timing of a Japanese attack. It was something the US military & govt. was preparing for and, to some extent, inviting.

    5) In 1945, Wall Street elitist and future CIA director Alan Dulles was already defying FDR policy by secretly negotiating with high ranking Nazi generals, and hiring Nazi’s after the war for the CIA and for political work in West Germany – see Talbot’s Devil’s Chessboard and books on “Operation Paperclip”.

    6) NKVD/KGB really did a lot of effective espionage in the USA during the WWII period and the immediate post-WWII period – stealing atomic secrets, placing spies in the State Dept., etc. The extent of this was kept Top Secret – as a result of this and above facts, a lot of people on the U.S. left were blind-sided/sandbagged by the reality.

    7) FDR’s Morgenthau plan was pretty bad – – the elitist’s were right not to go with that one.

    Message?? Beware of stupidity and vested interests on all sides….the Good Ol’ days usually were not so good….be skeptical of most spin from above…it is almost always filtered by current day politics.


      The modern banking system manufactures money out of nothing. The process is perhaps the most astounding piece of sleight of hand that was ever invented. Banking was conceived in iniquity and was born in sin. The Bankers own the Earth. Take it away from them, but leave them the power to create deposits, and with the flick of a pen they will create enough deposits to buy it back again.

  • diogenes

    Every serious historian of the American populist progressive activism shows that the CENTRAL policy initiative, from the Greenback Party on through Jerry Voorhis and beyond, has been PUBLIC CREDIT. That is, ending the Fed and nationalizing banks and making credit operate as what it is, a public utility instead of as another means for oligarchs to take tolls on other people’s labor. Ellen Brown is a good place to start for a contemporary account of this history. Lawrence Goodwyn’s Democratic Promise is the best history.

    When Smith starts talking Public Credit, I’ll know he’s informed and serious.

    • Ferrrne

      Trump = Putin’s useful idiot + China’s perpetual serf-debtor

      Trump was SELECTED to become the next president simply to preside over the BANKRUPTCY OF THE UNITED STATES

      • Macon Richardson

        Ferrne, you make a bare assertion. Anyone can do that. Let me try one: “The moon is made of green cheese.” There, I have made an assertion too. How is yours any different than mine?

        If you believe your assertion to be true, I suggest you provide documentation that proves it. Absent that, well absent that, “Mars is also made of cheese.”

      • I have a good read on that very topic for you. May 7, 2016 TRUMP: The NWO Cabal’s Nuclear Option—To Declare A US, Inc. Bankruptcy

        The Donald is the TRUMP Card of the International Banking Cartel There is no other way out for the bankrupt U.S. Corporation except an “Orderly Default”?

    • jadan

      A better source for the understanding of sovereign money, or public credit, or greenbacks, is the American Monetary Institute and a scholarly, but readable tome called “The Lost Science of Money” by its founder, Stephan Zarlenga. Ellen Brown went off the rails with her support of the Bank of North Dakota, a shady institution, stinking of oil spills, that falsely bills itself as a public bank. “Democratic Promise” has no equal!

      • diogenes

        Thanks. I value Brown’s Web of Debt for its history and its clarity about the underlying issue of credit, and not for what she isn’t, or details of policy proposals. the Bank of North Dakota isn’t a model, it’s an example of the KIND of thing that can be done, not the best way to do it. In any case California, for example, needs to take control of its citizens own funds — well over $600 billion — and use it a basis for issuing socially constructive credit in the service of the general welfare — instead of turning it over to the banksters of Wall Street to “use” to inflate securities investment bubbles in their casino and fuel their military industrial complex world empire ecocidal frankenstein.

  • Aug 16, 2011 The Tale of the Slave by Robert Nozick

    “Anarchy, State and Utopia”. I would recommend re-watching the video to see clearly if Nozick’s question is answerable.